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115 Days in the Life of a Migrant Worker

This is the story of Peng Hongping, a 26 year-old migrant worker from a countryside background. He was interviewed by two correspondents from the China Youth Daily. He was able to find work for only 45 of the 115 days from July 3 to October 24 this year. His income for the period amounted to just 415 yuan (US$50). He had worked for 11 different employers. Not one paid him what had been promised in full.

The correspondents first met Peng on July 3 in a job market in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province. He had nothing but a little loose change in his pocket and was set to run out of food in less than two days. Prior to this he had worked on a construction site for an employer named Zhang. He got just 200 yuan (US$24) for working 37 days. This was much less than the 925 yuan (US$112) that he should have been paid. On June 20 he injured his hand in an industrial accident. His employer gave him 5 yuan (US$0.6) and let him go.

Peng started life in a rural community in Xiantao City in Hubei Province. In 1992 when he was still less than 18 years old he left home to go and work in Wuhan.

According to Peng, his mother, now in her 60s, is almost blind with cataract and makes a living by sifting through garbage. He got married last year but poverty has already caused his wife to leave him.

The correspondents met up with Peng again at 1 o'clock on July 7. They found he had been sleeping rough in the street and had a heavy cold with a high fever. They gave him 20 yuan (US$2.4) and urged him to see a doctor quickly. Reluctant to spend the money he did not go for treatment until late that night. He got an injection in a small clinic for 18 yuan (US$2.2). He used the remaining 2 yuan (US$0.24) for a night's sleep in a hostel.

On July 8, Peng found work mixing cement mortar on a construction site. For this he was promised 20 yuan a day. It was heavy work as he screened the sand and got on with the mixing. At the end of a full day's work his boss said he was too slow and fired him without pay.

Through the heat of July and August, Peng worked on five different construction sites in Wuhan. He made a total of 30 yuan (US$3.6).

On August 30, the promise of a salary of 1,000 yuan (US$120) per month drew Peng to a job working 12 hours a day in a marble plant in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Here by contrast the weather was cold and he did not have suitable warm clothing. Peng managed to stick it for one month but he didn't get the 1,000 yuan he had been promised. His employer now said the salary was just 500 yuan (US$60) a month. He then reduced this by a further 200 yuan (US$24) on account of the cigarettes Peng had smoked.

Peng now had 300 yuan (US$36) but a rail ticket back to Wuhan was 370 yuan (US$44.7). He hitched a ride arriving back with 227 yuan (US$27.4) all of which was subsequently stolen in a job market.

On October 17, Peng found a job washing woven plastic bags. This involved working five to six hours during the day and a further eight to nine hours at night. He gave up after three days. He had washed four tons of plastic bags and got just 30 yuan (US$3.6).

Peng is now working as a porter, carrying goods with a shoulder pole borrowed from his brother. This is not an easy way to eke out a living for there are just too many people competing for the available work.

In 115 days Peng had worked for 11 different employers. Not one had given him a written contract and not one had paid him what had been promised.

Peng Hongping said, "If only the right conditions for hiring labor could be created with employers actually complying with the relevant laws and regulations and laborers doing a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, then our lives would be so much better." In particular he hopes earnestly for an early resolution to the problem of employers defaulting on salary payments.

Today there are fewer fields under cultivation in Peng's home village. He would go back to farming if the land could be made available. As he says, "Working on the land may be a hard life but it is better than starving in the city."

Lou Wei is a doctor studying rural labor migration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He said that Peng's experiences are representative of the lives of those who are coming off the land. China has 94 million rural laborers and many have had similar experiences to Peng.

Lou said that the relevant policies should be implemented in earnest. Employers must enter into written contracts with migrant laborers. Salaries must be paid in full and on time. There is also a need to expedite the development of social security measures and organizations aimed at providing support to migrant rural laborers.

At the same time training opportunities should be provided to help migrant laborers raise their skill-levels and so become more employable.

(China.org.cn translated by Feng Yikun, November 25, 2003)

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